Coffee Shop Wifi

February 17, 2020 | Categories: Equipment

Have you ever seen a sign like this? Or worse, do you have one? 

Sign saying: "We do not have wifi. Talk to each other. Pretend it's 1995."

1995 was 25 years ago. It’s not coming back. A customer reading a sign like this feels belittled even if they aren’t coming in to use the wifi. It’s a clear message that you, the business owner, are willing to ignore reasonable requests (wifi in a coffee shop), and not just ignore them, but throw it back in their face. Customers will start wondering, “What other requests will I be shamed for here? Do I even want to spend money at this shop?”

Not what you want.

It’s 2020 and coffee shops are expected to have wifi, but many coffee shops are careless with how they set it up. Public networks are a prime target for hackers looking to steal passwords and credit card numbers. You can always advise your customers not to enter sensitive information while on your network, but even the thought of that can make people worried and lose you business. Wouldn’t it be better if you could just secure everything in the first place? 

In this article we’ll show you how to setup and secure your coffee shop wifi to protect yourself and your patrons. 

WiFi Basics

What wifi actually is or how it works is so rarely explained in a useful way. If you have a good understanding of wifi, feel free to skip this first basics section, but if you don’t quite understand it, we’ll try to make it as straightforward as we can. 

If you ever hear someone mention WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network), they’re talking about WiFi (Wireless Fidelity). Both are the same thing and are a technology that sends extremely high frequency waves to transmit data. Wifi waves (or signal as it is often called) can be blocked by objects which is why it is usually wise not to store your router in a cupboard. 

Speaking of devices, most Wifi networks are made up of four parts: your internet connection, your modem, your router, and the devices connecting to the network.

Internet Connection

This will be in your wall and resembled a phone line. For a coffee shop, it’s best to choose as fast and as reliable a connection as you can afford. However, if you are a small shop with lots of table turnover and don’t mind being ever so slightly shady, you can get away with a slightly slower plan to give people the Wifi they want, but not make it so good that they want to spend their whole day using it.  


A modem acts as a translator to make sure the information passing through your internet connection is transmitted to your router in a way it understands. There are a few modern devices that are a combination of a modem and a router, so be sure you know what you’re getting.

Note: Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will often provide a modem and router for you, but be careful. Depending on your area and what ISP you go with, they may or may not be giving you a good piece of equipment. This is doubly worse if they charge you to use it. Don’t be afraid to ask about the device they’ll give you and compare it to other devices you can buy. 


A router acts as the transmitter for your Wifi, sending out the signal for people in your business to access. Like modems, routers will also have different specs and quality. A bad router can be a huge bottleneck to your shop’s internet, so do some research on what to buy. 


These are the devices your customers are using like laptops and cell phones. It can also include your POS system, but with a caveat. More on that later. 

Setting Up Public Wifi

Once you’ve got the equipment, it’s time to get it ready for public use. We’ll go over the basic setup as well as more advanced options. 


The most important step when setting up Wifi: Set up a private network for your equipment and a separate network for guests. Do not ever allow customers to access the network that will be sending information about customer credit cards and identifying information. 

Most routers will allow you to set up a personal network and a guest network. To access the router’s settings, you will need to type the router’s IP address into a web browser like you are typing in a website. Many router IP addresses look something like or Your router’s specific IP address is usually printed on the underside or back of the router. You should also find a default username and password for your router. 

Once at the login page for your router, look for a section of the settings that allows you to configure a guest network. Make sure the SSID of this network is set to on which will allow your customers to see the network on their device when they search for it. Set up a password for the guest wifi as well (more on passwords later). 


Some of these advanced topics are more difficult to implement than others. These are all nice-to-haves, but a properly set up guest network will get you 90% of the way there. 

Limiting Guests

The first more advanced option you may consider is limiting the bandwidth of your customers to keep your own devices running smoothly. After all, if your POS isn’t working, the cafe isn’t working. 

Whether or not you can do this is highly dependent on your router and sometimes your ISP. When shopping around for ISPs, consider asking if they offer this service. In your router settings this is commonly referred to as “Traffic Shaping”.

Captive Portal

Many people find captive portals annoying, but there is a good reason for them. If you’ve ever tried to connect to a wifi network and been redirected to a page where you’re asked to accept terms before using that network, you’ve seen a captive portal. 

Captive portals are sometimes appealing because of their ability to be branded with a business’s own name a logo, but are mostly important because of their ability to make users understand the terms of their use of the network. By having terms of use, you limit your own liability if someone were to do something illegal on your network. 

Whether or not you can use a captive portal again depends on which ISP and router you use. There are also services online that help you create a captive portal, but they are usually tricky to set up. If this is important to you in your shop, it might be worth hiring an IT professional to help you set this up. 


Wifi security protocols can be confusing, but we’ll make it as simple as possible. 

  • WEP: The oldest security protocol. It is extremely easy to break and should never be used by a modern Wifi network.
  • WPA: Far better than WEP, but beaten out by WPA2. 
  • WPA2: The standard for Wifi security. It is not the most secure protocol out there, but it is good and simple to set up for most modern routers.

The biggest security measure a business can take is separating the private network from your guest network. Beyond that, encourage your customers to not enter any sensitive information while on your public wifi even if you have taken steps to secure it. Some inevitably still will, but at least you are helping them to think twice. 


Managing access to wifi is an important and underrated process coffee shop owners must think about. It is somewhat paradoxical that coffee shops are seen as a place to sit and work while most coffee shop products bring very little raw profit to the shop. This is unlike restaurants where customers both spend more and are expected to leave soon after they finish their meal. Even bars are usually able to get more profit out of customers despite shorter stays on average. Looking at a full coffee shop of customers who have spent less than $10 a piece in many cases can be frustrating. 

Of course, not offering wifi at all is a way to avoid this situation, but then you run the risk of alienating large numbers of customers as discussed in the intro. Some shops choose not offer wifi on certain days which can be an acceptable compromise, especially if there is a clear tradeoff. An expanded breakfast menu on Saturday but no wifi is usually acceptable to customers because they understand the shop is operating more as a restaurant on that day.

The most popular way to manage wifi access though is by keeping the password at the register. That way, someone can’t just come in and use your wifi without buying something. Another option is to print the password on a paper receipt, but as paper receipts become less common this option becomes less viable. 


What password you choose for your network is important. It is best to choose a password that is strong (containing uppercase letters, lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers) but it is also important to make it easily readable by customers. A password like “A%UBs%S]%<?j” might be strong, but it will be a nightmare for customers to type in correctly. A common tactic is to take easy to understand words and replace letters with similar numbers, like o and 0, s and 5, etc. This is a good compromise between a secure password that is difficult for a program to guess, but also fairly easy for a human to enter if they know the password. 

Also, consider changing your password sometime between every week to every month. This accomplishes two great things: Your password will remain strong and uncompromised and it will force customers to regularly spend money if they want the new password. 

Internet for a Coffee Shop

Finally, a note on your internet, specifically what internet you should buy for your cafe. The answer is heavily dependent on your area and needs. Certain ISPs are more prevalent in certain areas, and certain areas have more options than others. 

Reliability should be your number one concern. Slow wifi that is always up is tolerable to most people. Slow (even good) wifi that regularly drops in and out is not. Ask ISPs around you and look for local reviews especially from other businesses. If you have a lot of ISPs to choose from, create a short list to compare other features. 

Speed is of course another concern. Internet speed is measured in megabits per second (different from the megabytes more people are familiar with). “High-speed” internet covers a huge range of speeds and does not really mean anything. We mostly want to focus on download speed, but a coffee shop can’t ignore upload speed either when processing transactions. The amount of data you’ll need to upload is usually quite small, but still, you can’t afford to not be able to process it. 

What speed you will need depends a lot on your customers. Will they be regularly watching videos or streaming movies, or do most people only stay a short time to answer some emails? Any streaming services will eat your bandwidth quickly, and some coffee shops block sites like YouTube and Netflix to avoid that. 

Quick References

Download Speed Guide

Safe Minimum Speed: 30 Mbps [blocking customers from streaming recommended]

Respectable Speed: 100-200 Mbps

Fastest Internet Around: 600+ Mbps

Internet Speed (fastest to slowest) by type: Fibre > Cable > DSL > Satellite > Dial-up

8 Mb (Megabits) = 1 MB (Megabyte)

1000 MB = 1 GB (Gigabyte) = 8000 Mb